Art as recreation

In his book Art as Experience, John Dewey argues that having an experience always involves both acting and perceiving, both doing and feeling, and the esthetic experience is the most ‘integral’ kind, moving toward the ‘closure of a circuit of energy’ (Dewey 1934, 42). It involves a receptivity, but perception itself is ‘an act of the going-out of energy in order to receive’ (55). This is true for both the artist and the beholder of a work of art.

For to perceive, the beholder must create his own experience. And his creation must include relations comparable to those which the original producer underwent. They are not the same in any literal sense. But with the perceiver, as with the artist, there must be an ordering of the elements of the whole that is in form, although not in details, the same as the process of organization the creator of the work consciously experienced. Without an act of recreation the object is not perceived as a work of art.

— Dewey 1934, 56

Dewey contrasts this act of ‘recreation’ with the ‘recognition’ which dismisses the object perceived as something already known and not worthy of the more active attention it would take to learn something new about it. Regarding the work of art as a sign, its object is the ‘form’ in which the ‘elements of the whole’ are ordered. Its interpretant, as the recreation of the beholder, is another sign of that object, though it will differ in other respects from the creator’s experience.

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